We Are One

Honoring Immigrant Garment Workers

SECTION 2: The Organizers—Committee to Defend the Union Contract

In the spring of 1982 the ILGWU negotiated a contract renewal with hundreds of employers covering nearly 150,000 garment workers along the north east coast. All had agreed upon a contract save for the contractors belonging to a Chinatown association of garment manufacturers. The union made the choice to continue working without a contract and approach the employers individually.

The Committee to Defend the Union Contract was formed, with hundreds of worker volunteers signing up thousands of members to support the contract. Using Chinese/English language leaflets, phone banks and media outreach, they engaged the community and countered the contractors’ “us versus them” narrative, which emphasized the common ground for Chinese contractors and workers versus the union leaders and the large clothing manufacturers.

The Local 23-35 newsletter that summer includes great images of the behind-the-scenes work. The images below show union leaders and worker organizers galvanizing the crowd at the rallies.